Where love and dying meet

Our Psalm for church today was the Twenty-Third Psalm, still the most popular choice of readings at a funeral, especiallypsalm-23 funerals of those who have some kind of Christian religious background, but were either luke-warm or lapsed in their belief in Jesus at the time of their dying. That fact that, in popular English-Australian culture, we still read the twenty-third psalm as words of comfort in the face of death, grabbed my attention as I came to reading the gospel of the day, which in itself take us directly to the heart of this easter season: that Christ died on the cross, once for all, to bring us to God. Christ, of course, utters these words about ‘the good shepherd’ before his death, recorded in a large chunk of Jesus teaching in the gospel of John, where Jesus is carefully instructing his disciples so that when all things become clear to them at a later date – that is after his resurrection – they will have everything they need to make sense of Jesus’ passion. Jesus tells them here, 4th-sunday-of-easter-gospel-john-101118-2-638‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.’ Perhaps I am reading too much into it, but I think there is here again, the theme I have emphasised through-out lent and easter, that if Jesus death cannot be understood as a love event, then it cannot be understood at all  There is something mysterious about death and love, and it is perhaps summed up best in a phrase from Song of Songs that ‘love is stronger than death.’ Jesus’ parable about the shepherd points out that when there is a personal relationship or bond between the shepherd and his sheep, he will go out of his way to keep them safe, even putting his own life on the line for them. This is not an unfamiliar sentiment when we think about people who love. For example, a friend of mine told me that when his mother was sick he prayed that God would take 5 years off his life and add it to hers. A grandmother once told me that when her young child was sick she did a bargain with God that if the child lived she would devote her life to serving God. Have you not ever heard a spouse say, if only I could change places with my beloved and let their suffering be mine’? Love is prepared to suffer even death for the sake of its beloved, for love is stronger than death. So, perhaps we should not be surprised that love and death go together in Jesus passion. But why is this death and this love so significant that it changed the whole course of salvation history? Why is this death so significant that it means love for us? Is it not because Jesus was God? Well, yes, I guess we are used to hearing that. This is God dying on the cross for our sins, and yes, I do believe that is important – the sacrificial system within the theology of the old and new testament is too significant to be able to sweep under the carpet – Jesus death deals with our sin, whatever that means and however that happens, we’ll leave that for another day.  But the significance of Jesus death and love for us has a particular meaning if we view it through the parable of the good shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd, we are the sheep, we have – therefore – a personal relationship and bond with this shepherd. It is the bond of creation, of God who made us and us God’s children. We are Go’d sheep. We belong to God. Jesus’ death is the death of God-who-is-love, in order to keep those of whom God loves, safe in God’s care! Not exclusively us, I don’t think. For if Jesus came initially to the Jews and had sheep in other folds, why would we think that we were now his only fold? No, I’m fairly confident that we need to understand Jesus is the good shepherd of all who live, because Jesus is the God of all that is, and that God loves us, and loves all. Jesus death, is a death that enfolds us in the loving arms of God. It is a death for all people, and I suspect further for all living things, it is the death of the shepherd who knows his sheep by name and lays down his life in order to keep them safe. St John Cathedral Denver At a funeral, when I read the twenty-third psalm for a family that are mourning the death of a loved one, I am declaring that Jesus death is love for them. We may not understand it, and they may not even believe it, but I can still proclaim it and perhaps more than at any other time, they can hear that death and love must somehow be connected. Love is stronger than death, and in human terms, love doesn’t get buried with the deceased in the grave, we know it lives on. Love is stronger than death – in the passion of Jesus – and in God-terms, this one death, means love for us. The love is there, we need only lift our eyes upon the cross and open ourselves to it.

3 thoughts on “Where love and dying meet

  1. Your words deeply touch me because you see, when my husband Francis, died over five years ago, he asked me to sing to him as he was dying – those very words from Song of Songs. The main title of my first three books since he died is: SING TO ME AND I WILL HEAR YOU. There’s much more information on my website. Thank you Chelle! Elaine Beatrice

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